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Flathead Warming Center's Roadmaps program provides homeless with one-on-one counseling and encouragement

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | February 21, 2024 12:00 AM

Although Patty Archambault and her son Josh Erickson once knew the Flathead Warming Center as guests, they return these days as volunteers.

The pair, who spent two years relying on the center’s services, say the organization’s efforts, in particular its new Roadmaps program, helped them get back on their feet.

The mother and son were already receiving assistance at the center in various ways, but in combination with the Roadmaps program, they were able to get Medicaid, phones and eventually housing.

“We knew what we had to do, but the Roadmaps program helped us … [The] resources come to us, which makes a heck of a big difference,” Archambault said. 

The Roadmaps program launched in October, the beginning of the center’s 2023-2024 season, according to organization officials. 

The initiative builds on the center’s LINK program, where 15 integrated services from partner organizations are available at its facility. Clients are directed to programs that can help meet their specific, immediate needs, such as Medicaid, SNAP, housing navigation and addiction services. 

These programs are run in collaboration with several other area outreach organizations, like Community Action Partnership and Greater Valley Health Center. 

Flathead Warming Center Executive Director Tonya Horn said Roadmaps goes beyond case management. Through long-term planning, shelter guests meet weekly with the center’s licensed social worker and licensed addiction counselor to determine their current situation and develop individualized plans, taking into account their greatest needs and obstacles in obtaining self-sufficiency.

“The steps to take to get out of homelessness — that's a long road,” Horn said. “So to have someone to sit with you and to break that down into achievable goals, to provide support and to provide accountability. Each of those aspects is very important in our Roadmaps.”

Flathead Warming Center Resource Manager John Reusch said the program brings shelter guests and staff together. It’s a good way to establish trust and let people know that the center’s staff is there to encourage them, he said.

“It's non-threatening, just a meeting where people talk. And we talk about goals, so there's some degree of accountability. But for the most part, it's just a discussion and support,” Reusch said. 

Warming Center guest Christina Nelson said the program helped her coordinate doctor’s appointments and other health care needs as she prepares for an upcoming surgery. 

“When I meet with John, I just keep him informed of what's going on. So, when we do my roadmap, it's all written down and everything,” Nelson said. “Everybody is so helpful. They're wonderful — they care for you, they support you and when you do get something right, they tell you ‘way to go!’” 

Reusch said he began working with the center last year. With many years spent as a counselor, he’s worked with homeless people a lot throughout his career. But meeting with them at the Warming Center through the Roadmaps program is a much more effective way to keep up with how someone is doing, he said.

“They’re here to stay and get warm, so you have that opportunity [to meet with them] because they're here, and they're willing to talk. Whereas during the day, they go where they go, and it's very difficult to find or engage them during the day,” Reusch said.

Center staff are also working with local inmate populations to assess individuals and connect them with needed services before they are released. 

“It can take months after release for them to receive services, such as Medicaid,” Horn said. “We try to move things forward before they are released.”  

According to organization statistics, there have been 96 individualized roadmaps created so far this season. In addition to connecting guests with services, the weekly meetings also help people get IDs or even just a haircut.

Archambault and Erickson volunteer at the center to give back. She said it’s a place that feels like home. Erickson agreed and said that they want to help make the facility a welcoming environment for others. 

“We're always gonna come back; these guys really help us out a lot,” Erickson said. “It's not like I didn't want to leave, but at the same time, I just want to contribute to what this place has done for us.”

The Roadmaps program is part of the center’s “Warm and Safe Project,” which is funded through a grant from the Gianforte Family Foundation. 

“We’re proud of the work the Flathead Warming Center is doing to help people not just with their immediate challenges, but long-term as well. The assessments and roadmaps are helping people rebuild their lives in a sustainable, long-lasting way,” Gianforte Family Foundation Executive Director Catherine Koenen said in a statement.

During the 2022-23 winter season, the Flathead Warming Center provided a place to sleep for 354 individuals, most hailing from the Flathead Valley, with many more helped through the center’s linked programs. More information is available at www.flatheadwarmingcenter.org. 

People can connect with the center by emailing flatheadwarmingcenter@gmail.com, or by calling 406-885-3042.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.